WICHITA, Kan. — As transfers out of the Wichita State men’s basketball program continued to stack up Friday — Asbjorn Midtgaard became the seventh scholarship player to leave — the Shockers were in desperate need of good news.
Some arrived Saturday when former Connecticut point guard Alterique Gilbert announced that he plans to use his final season of eligibility as a graduate transfer at Wichita State. The 6-foot, 180-pound point guard is a former highly touted recruit who will be the first former McDonald’s All-American to play at WSU under coach Gregg Marshall.
UConn is leaving the American Athletic Conference, so Gilbert avoids the intra-conference transfer rule and can play immediately for the Shockers in the 2020-21 season. Gilbert’s recruitment was spearheaded by assistant Tyson Waterman, and he picked the Shockers over interest from Florida, Texas Tech, Arkansas, Georgia and Cincinnati, among others.
Finding a point guard available to play right away with as much high-caliber experience and natural ability as Gilbert possesses would’ve otherwise been difficult for WSU. With no other point guards on the roster, landing Gilbert could be a game-changer for the Shockers.
Gilbert, who hails from Atlanta, never quite fulfilled his tantalizing potential at UConn, mostly due to shoulder injuries that limited him to nine total games in his first two seasons. After a career-best season in 2018-19, when he averaged 12.6 points, Gilbert was inconsistent in his redshirt-junior season and lost his starting job in late January. He still played 27.2 minutes per game, but his scoring average (8.5 points) and shooting (34.6% from the field) both dropped.
“Al needs a fresh start, an opportunity to find a place that can give him everything he needs, including style of play,” UConn coach Dan Hurley told local media last Thursday after Gilbert announced he was leaving the program.
“Al has a chance to hit the reset button. Al’s time here has not been easy. He has displayed amazing courage and leadership in the program, we’re going to lose that with him.”
In Wichita State, Gilbert gets the combination of a new environment and potential to play significant minutes.
The opportunity is certainly there with the Shockers. All three of WSU’s point guards transferred after the season ended with a 23-8 record. There’s also an outside chance he could play two seasons at WSU, as he could apply for a sixth year having missed 56 of 65 games in his first two seasons.
At the very least, Gilbert will pair with returning sophomore Tyson Etienne (9.4 points) and junior Dexter Dennis (9.2 points) to give WSU a talented backcourt. WSU also has two upperclassmen bigs returning, in senior Trey Wade (7.4 points) and junior Isaiah Poor Bear-Chandler (1.8 points), along with enticing 6-foot-10 redshirt freshman prospect Josaphat Bilau. Gilbert is the second member of WSU’s 2020 recruiting class, joining three-star freshman wing JaDun Michael.
There is plenty of work yet to be done to fill out the roster from this recruiting class, which still has six scholarships available, but Gilbert’s commitment should bolster Marshall and his staff on the recruiting trail.
With the graduation of senior center Jaime Echenique and the six transfers, WSU has lost four of its top-six scorers, 89 starts and nearly 3,600 minutes from last season’s 23-win roster. But with Gilbert on board, the Shockers should have an NCAA Tournament-caliber team next season.
And that could be the difference in persuading another top-tier grad transfer to join Gilbert at WSU. For that to happen, WSU will likely need Gilbert to return closer to the form he showed during the 2018-19 season for UConn, when he averaged 12.6 points, 3.6 assists and 1.3 steals. Shocker fans might remember his 18-point performance at Koch Arena in the 2018-19 season when Gilbert drilled back-to-back 3-pointers in the final minute to tie the game, only for Samajae Haynes-Jones to score the game-winner for a 65-63 WSU victory.
At his best, he’s a dynamic playmaker capable of beating defenders with his jump shot, the burst necessary to get to the basket and the vision and feel to thread the needle with his passes. He’s also a dogged defender who fits the Marshall mold of what he demands from his guards.
There’s also an injury risk with Gilbert. Several, combined with the coronavirus pandemic ending the season early this spring, prevented him from ever playing in a postseason game for the Huskies.
His history of shoulder injuries dates back to his senior year of high school in 2016, when he dislocated his left shoulder and needed surgery. Later that year, in his third game as a true freshman, Gilbert suffered a torn labrum in the same shoulder and required additional surgery.
One year later, in the sixth game of the season, Gilbert re-aggravated the injury and again needed season-ending surgery.
“The injuries are a part of my story,” Gilbert told the New Haven Register. “I still feel like I’m the same player I was coming into college. Hopefully (next) year, I’ll be able to show that how I want to. It definitely helped me grow, though. Mentally, physically, I’ll just take all the positives with it.”
©2020 The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.)
Visit The Wichita Eagle (Wichita, Kan.) at www.kansas.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.